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Filth and Contempt | 'Nope' Review
A spoiler-free review of Jordan Peele's latest movie
Jordan Peele is one of the most interesting horror directors working today. He earned a blank check after winning Best Original Screenplay at The Oscars in 2018, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. His follow-up film, Us, was a massive success. He hosted two seasons of a Twilight Zone revival on Paramount+. And his company, Monkeypaw Productions, produced the phenomenal horror remake Candyman in 2021.
But despite — and perhaps because of — his unparalleled success Nope, Jordan Peele’s newest film, serves as a stern and grave warning against the pursuit of fame.
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Peele’s newest script shows his growth as a storyteller immediately. Get Out and Us were self-contained, intimate stories about an individual struggling against a rigged system. But with Nope, Peel expands his focus with a story about the societal impulse towards notoriety, and the dire consequences that can come along with it.
In Nope, Peel insists that spectacle is antithetical to our nature as human beings. Despite the viral, clout-chasing, influence-driven meme culture that surrounds us, Nope serves as a reminder that pursuing fame doesn’t come without cost. The film even goes a step further, suggestion that the adoration of a roaring crowd may be in opposition with our existence as living creatures. Even the horses on the Haywood Ranch instinctually buck at someone looking them dead in the eye. Peele seems to suggest that social media users could take a page out of that particular playbook.
The film’s story centers around Otis Hayward Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer). Otis is the hard working, salt of the Earth rancher who is dedicated to carrying on his father’s legacy. Emerald, by contrast, is running from tradition as fast as she can. But when unexplained events start happening at the Haywood Family Ranch, Emerald’s get-rich-quick-schemes crash up against Otis Jr.’s dedication to the Ranch.
Speaking of the Hayward Family Ranch, Otis Jr. (or OJ as he is called throughout the film) and Emerald both spend a majority of the movie grappling with their relationship with their late father (Keith David as Otis Senior). While OJ has internalized his father’s world view, Emerald has rebelled against it. OJ is the stalwart follower of his father’s gospel, making note of every warning about the complexity of animal husbandry and the unpredictable nature of horses.
On the other hand, Emerald is the horse that can’t be broken. She’s a free spirit with little interest in the small lives of her family members. She sees a world of bigger and better things for herself in Los Angeles, if only she can find a way to grab hold of it. That’s just one of the things that makes Jordan Peele’s movies wonderful. Watching this complex internal family dynamic play itself out while our heroes attempt to evade alien abduction is as compelling as it is complex.
But if OJ is defined by his commitment to tradition and his way of life, his neighbor a few acres over is his opposites in every way. Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) is an aging child star clinging to any sense of notoriety. As a last ditch effort to find to any sense of relevancy, Ricky had opened up a tourist trap in the middle of nowhere: Jupiter’s Claim. Which has presented an opportunity for OJ — who has been paying the bills by selling his horses to Jupe for use in his show.
And just like that, Peele divides his audience into two camps OJs and Jupes. The gulf of difference between these two characters is what Nope is fundamentally about. The OJs of the world are a cautious lot, inclined towards their typical way of doing things. They’re aware of their place in the system, and aren’t inclined to rock the boat. On the other hand, The Jupes of the world are too quick to trust the unknown. They race in without heeding the consequences, because all that matters is being first.
Unfortunately, neither path offers much salvation. The Jupes among us are too dependent on the approval of others, trapping themselves in a toxic cycle too fragile to depend on. While the OJs are likely to lose their connection to the world entirely, and end up going through the motions of life without ever really living.
The ultimate truth about clout chasing, whether we want to admit it or not, is that it is a petty, shallow thing that we all engage in. And Nope puts that truth on full display. Yet, even as I write this review, I hope that lots of people will read it. I want to share my thoughts with the world. And a cold, dark, part of me wants those thoughts to be valued by strangers on the internet. Is that constructive, or valuable, or healthy? Peele’s latest masterpiece offers us a one word answer.
Nope is currently playing in theaters nationwide.